Gambling on the blind
By Linda
The blind will be able to play at casinos when ‘Ray Charles’ slots with Braille markings and audio features hit the market.

One version of the slots, called ‘What’d I Pay,’ a pun on a Charles song title, has the rhythm and blues legend giving spoken instructions to help visually impaired players. The game features 'the Paylettes,' instead of his backup group, the Raylettes.

In March, Bally Gaming and Systems, a unit of Alliance Gaming Corp., won the 2002 Access Award from the American Foundation for the Blind for the Ray Charles slots. The AFB is a national nonprofit group dedicated to fighting for equal treatment for visually impaired people.

Charles, who lost his sight to glaucoma at age 6, said in a promotional spot for Bally, that the slots will give blind people 'independence' and enable them to have fun without depending on others' help.

The Ray Charles machines haven't reached casinos yet. As is the case with all new slots, the computer chip regulating the percentage the machines pay out to players must be tested and approved by jurisdictional gambling regulators.

Over the past 100 years, slots have evolved from noisy, metal, mechanical devices to high-tech electronic gadgets run by stepper motors and microchips.

More than 1.5 million blind or visually impaired people have access to the Internet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Accommodating blind people online is analogous to targeting international users, in that unique issues of usability, technology and culture must be considered.

Therefore, in most cases, a separate version of an online retail site is the best way to serve blind and visually impaired shoppers.

Visually impaired individuals typically experience the Web using screen access software from vendors like GW Micro and Henter-Joyce.

These screen readers translate text on a computer screen into either synthesized speech or a dynamic braille display. To comply with these screen readers, sites aimed at the blind must be largely or entirely text-based. More advanced technologies like Java, Flash and even Web browser frames trip up most screen readers.

Amazon's made its Web site accessible to the blind last December. Launching Amazon Access was both a business and ethical decision, the merit of which each company must determine for itself. That said, blind and physically challenged people represent a largely untapped population of Internet users, and they should be approached as a distinct customer base with unique needs.

Amazon is not the only Web-based company addressing the needs of blind consumers. Job site held a Disability Awareness Virtual Career Fair in October, to connect disabled people with potential employers.

And distance learning software provider eCollege recently rolled out a new version of its product that features higher levels of accessibility for blind and disabled people.

That there will be an online casino for the blind is only a matter of time?

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